Responding to Abuse Toolkit Step #1: Be Prepared
Safe Church Ministry is working on a new resource called, “Responding to Abuse: A Toolkit for Church Councils.” We are hearing from congregations requesting assistance as they face allegations and situations of abuse. We expect that trend to continue as the #MeToo wave begins to hit the church. We plan to post draft version pieces of this new resource here on The Network (We’ve already posted Step #2: Understanding the Power Dynamic).
Step #1: Be Prepared
Whitney Young Jr. is credited with the saying, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” We may not tend to think of an allegation or disclosure of sexual abuse as an opportunity, yet that’s exactly what it is. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet someone in their place of hurt, shame, and confusion, and then to minister with the Lord’s compassion and justice. The response of the Church is critical. Churches have sometimes taken a path of least resistance, a path that may lead to further harm. Another path leads toward a journey of restoration and healing. This is not a quick or easy journey, but one filled with the transforming healing power of our Lord. The choice is in our hands.
The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is never more true than in situations of abuse. Safe Church Ministry began as the Office of Abuse Prevention; prevention must be a primary focus of our work. Therefore, we have step one — be prepared. Our response efforts will always be weak and lacking without this foundation. Our prayer is that in using this toolkit, prevention will become your focus as well.
God is calling us, the Church, to be his people, a blessed community that bears his name, and reflects his love, justice, and grace, a blessing to the nations. Safe Church Ministry is a critical part of living into that mission.
The following biblical themes provide a foundation for the integral role safe church ministry plays in Christian mission.
- Genesis 1:26-28 – Created in God’s image — ALL people are created in God’s very image, giving all of us inherent dignity and worth. Abuse destroys God’s image in us.
- Philippians 2 – Use of power in abuse — See also Matthew 20:24-26. Misuse of power is at the heart of all kinds of abuse. It is diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus, our redeemer and our example, who used his infinite power in sacrificial love for others, dying on a cross, and empowering others through his Holy Spirit.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 — We are One Body, the Body of Christ. When one part hurts, the whole body hurts. We cannot fully live into our calling when we neglect parts of our body that are hurting.
- Matthew 18:1-14 & Mark 9:33-36,42 – Jesus loves children — Jesus had harsh words for those who would cause little ones to stumble. Children had little value in Jesus’ culture and little more in ours. We shine like stars in the darkness when we make every effort to value, love, and protect our children and those who are vulnerable.
- Matthew 5:13-16 – Light and salt — we are called to be different from the world around us where disrespect, sexual immorality, abuse, and neglect are common in relationships. In contrast, our Christian communities are called to reflect God’s love.
- John 10:1-18 and Ezekiel 34 – The Good Shepherd — We are called to follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd, in contrast to the evil shepherds of Israel who only took care of themselves and not their flock.
Abuse thrives in silence and secrecy, as do so many other sins and hindrances to our faith formation. Efforts toward more openness and transparency are part of establishing a safer, faith-nurturing environment AND preventing abuse. In addition, regular and ongoing education specifically around issues of abuse is also necessary to establishing a safer culture or environment. We realize that this doesn’t just happen; someone needs to pay attention. We recommend a small group of people in each congregation, working together to create a healthy environment where each person is valued. And it works even better when these teams are supported by Safe Church Classis Coordinators in each classis, who assist in developing safe church teams and who know Safe Church information, events, best practices, and local resources.
For more information, please see: https://network.crcna.org/safe-church/abuse-awareness-prevention-and-response-how-will-it-happen-your-classis
Questions to Prayerfully Consider:
- How specifically could the mission of our church be enhanced by an increased focus on abuse awareness, prevention, and response?
- Who in our congregation is paying attention to abuse? Who is working to create a safer environment for everyone, so that our church community reflects the love of our Lord?
- Does our classis have a Safe Church Classis Coordinator to support these efforts? If not, what can we do to make this position a reality in our classis?
Ideas from Safe Church Ministry:
- Participate in Abuse Awareness Sunday — The fourth Sunday in September has been designated Abuse Awareness Sunday. Resources on various topics are available: https://www.crcna.org/SafeChurch/abuse-awareness.
- Use the Ten Ways to Make Your Church a Safer Place toolbox — How many of these ways have you implemented in your congregation? (https://www.faithaliveresources.org/Products/810737/ten-ways-to-make-your-church-a-safer-place.aspx)
- Implement the Circle of Grace program - This is an excellent program for children and youth; a few lessons for each age group can fit with your regular education curriculum. For more information: https://www.crcna.org/SafeChurch/circle-grace
- Contact your local safe church team member or Safe Church Ministry directly — We’re always happy to hear from you and will do our best to offer additional ideas and be available for consultation or assistance as you get started with Safe Church Ministry.